The boyhood dream has come true for Brad Gushue.
In his 14th appearance at the Canadian men’s curling championship, the 36-year-old from St. John’s, N.L., finally scratched winning the Tim Hortons Brier off of his bucket list with a 7-6 victory over Team Canada’s Kevin Koe in Sunday’s final on home ice.
It all came down to the last shot of the game with the score tied and Gushue needing to land completely in the eight-foot circle while drawing against two Koe counters. With lead Geoff Walker nursing an injured shoulder, third Mark Nichols jumped up to help second Brett Gallant sweep and drag their skip’s stone in to send their family, friends and fans at the Mile One Centre into a frenzy.
Team Gushue is just the second Newfoundland and Labrador squad to win the Brier after Jack MacDuff’s crew back in 1976. It was also the first time St. John’s hosted the Brier since 1972 with Gushue leading the charge in bringing the tournament back to the Rock.
While Gushue has won an Olympic gold medal, the Brier was still the elusive quest that made him question which one he wanted more: another Olympic gold or a Brier? He came close finishing runner-up in 2007 and again last season, falling to Koe 9-5 in the championship game a year ago in Ottawa.
Although it was a rematch, it wasn’t a repeat.
Newfoundland and Labrador was in complete control in the first half striking the scoreboard with a three-count in the second and adding a deuce in the fifth to hold a firm 5-1 lead at halftime.
You can never count Koe out though. Just like in the semifinal -- where Team Canada came back against Manitoba’s Mike McEwen to steal in an extra end -- Koe chipped away at the deficit. The Calgary native fired a rocket in the sixth for a triple takeout to score a trey of his own and a steal in the seventh suddenly tied things up.
Gushue was forced to one in eight and seeing just enough of Koe’s shot stone in nine, he was able to pick it out and limit Team Canada to a single as well. That also gave Gushue the hammer coming home for the 10th end to set up the dramatic nail-biting finish.
Full credit to Koe, third Marc Kennedy, second Brent Laing and lead Ben Hebert for the valiant effort they put in to force it down to the wire.
Walker wasn’t the only one on the team in pain as Gushue was still in some discomfort with his hip/groin issue that kept him out of the lineup for the first three months of the season. Nichols skipped in the interim and it’s a testament to how solid their lineup is front-to-end as they never missed the playoffs through eight events with Gushue on the mend. Gushue returned in December at the Boost National, reaching the semifinals, and just one month later was back in the winner’s circle capturing his seventh Grand Slam title at the Meridian Canadian Open.
Still, Gushue hadn’t tested his hip/groin to the extent of the grind he’d face at the Brier with 13 games in nine days. The team only lost twice, to McEwen and Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories, to finish the round robin with a 9-2 record and tie Manitoba atop of the table. Gushue excellently executed a 7-5 win over McEwen in the Page playoff 1-2 game to advance straight to the final.
With the Brier dream achieved, Gushue, Nichols, Gallant and Walker will now wear the Maple Leaf at the world men’s curling championship next month in Edmonton. They also get the opportunity to return to the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier as Team Canada, although there is a chance they may decline that spot if they happen to represent the nation at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Just another item to try and cross off of the bucket list.